CRITIC'S CHOICE: Texas Guinness Lovers

BEST C&W
BEST FOLK
Sisters Morales

Roberta Morales and sister Lisa have been harmonizing together, according to Roberta, since they "were like five and six," both in English and Spanish. As a professional duo they've been charming audiences from Texas to Germany for more than a decade now, evolving as singers and songwriters in the process. Oblivious to industry marketing categories, they create and perform their own mix of acoustic-tinged music, whatever you want to label it. "We're not just country, and we're not just folk. In fact, I don't know what we are," says Lisa with a laugh. "Really, we cross all lines. We play some mariachi music, a little blues, and we rock, so it's really every type of music that we ever heard growing up, stirred together."

That diversity of influences infuses the tandem's passionately introspective original songs. Their multicultural richness befuddled Nashville record executives during a brief courtship a few years ago. Though the sisters recorded two full releases' worth of material for RCA, it all sat on the shelf while bonehead C&W moguls struggled to conceive a marketing strategy for this genre-crossing, bilingual duo. That disillusioning experience, combined with a renewed sense of self-direction following Roberta's recovery from cancer, convinced the siblings to go their own way. The result is two self-produced recordings, which make both sisters "very proud." Their intelligent blend of soulful sounds debuted on disc in 1997 with Ain't No Perfect Diamond. Earlier this summer they followed up with Someplace Far Away from Here, which reportedly sold 1,000 copies in its first week. (Take that, Nashville!) Touring in support of the new release, the Sisters Morales band especially delights in coming home to perform. "We have a blast," Lisa says. "We've got a great audience here and that's not sucking up." (Roger Wood)

CRITIC'S CHOICE: The Hollisters, Best C&W; Sisters Morales, Best Folk

BEST NEW ACT
Jug O' Lightnin'

Jug O' Lightnin' ain't your grandpa's jug band. Part electric guitar, part drums and part electronified washtub, this trio looks to the past to create some ultrahip country-rock-folk today. And though its music is old-timey, the band hardly depends on covers. Rather, singer/ guitarist Aaron Loesch, drummer Juan Abair and washtub bassist "Mopar" Mike Sinclair each take what they individually love about that '20s sound and that Delta sound and that bluegrass sound and "spookify" it. Which Loesch says means: "The chord changes are a little bit weird, and the rhythms will kinda throw you off. But it's cool." The band got started no more than a year ago in Loesch's place. "Me and Mike were playing, we were jamming, and Mike was on the washtub," says Loesch, "and our drummer joined in. And we sounded pretty good. After we finished, [the drummer] asked, `When are we gonna start playin'?' " Loesch laughs. "I said, `Ha, ha, we were playin'.' " The hardest part for singer Loesch is appropriating a '50s sound but remaining contemporary. "You don't wanna sing about a hound dog on a porch in 1999." About 40 to 50 originals are in Jug O' Lightnin's current repertoire. The band's eager to cut a CD but is weary of production quality. "We don't want it overproduced," says Loesch, "but we want like an AM-radio sound with a little Bjork to it." What they want essentially is lightnin' in a jug. (Anthony Mariani)

CRITIC'S CHOICE: Japanic

SONG OF THE YEAR
"My Dad, Two Whores and a Crack Pipe [Crack Pipe]"

BEST METAL/HARD ROCK
Poor Dumb Bastards

The lyrics describe more than their share of lurid elements: a drug-taking father; a double dose of prostitution; and a concert that involved nakedness, drunkenness and a hypodermic needle, which the boys in the band broke while injecting speed.

"It's all really a true story," says head Bastard/lead vocalist Byron Dean. "My dad drove us to Austin, and all that stuff happened." After the band got back into town, Dean received a call that night from Papa. "He said, `Hey! I'm at the Villa Real, and I've got a couple-a hotties! Come on out!' We showed up, and it was nasty. He had these two whores, a black one and a white one, and he was smoking crack with them. We stayed for about five minutes and left to get beer. We never showed back up. He called me a week later and said, `Hey, what happened?' "

The tale passed into band lore, but it took guitarist Mike Porterfield, who wasn't even in the band during the incident but who intended to sing the piece himself, to write the song. "I feel like Homer and The Iliad," Porterfield says. "[Homer] wasn't there at the time, but he heard the stories. That's the way it was for me." And what was Pop's reaction? "He loved it!" Dean shouts. "He comes to every concert, and to this day we bring him up on stage and introduce him before the song. He couldn't be prouder."

Dean thinks it odd that the band won in the category Best Metal/Hard Rock; the Bastards also play punk, honky-tonk and pop. "We consider ourselves Drunk Rock," he says, "but you don't have an award category for that." A typical set list might also include some stone country material. "I like songs about drinkin' and fuckin'," says Dean. "Those country guys know how to party."

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